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MODERN MYTHS OF QUALITATIVE FORGETTING

If ‘quantitative forgetting’ is the regular type of forgetting where we forget this and forget that, where we forget some of the details, then qualitative forgetting is where we forget not just the details but the whole thing. We forget an entire perspective, an entire world, an entire realm. This is another way of talking about an ‘information collapse’ – a catastrophic drop in complexity of system. We can relate this idea to esoteric version of “The Fall’ where there is a loss of the original divine or angelic nature, which is said to involves such attributes as the power of healing, telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and astral projection.

See: Joyce Collin-Smith, 1988, Call No Man Master, Gateway Books, p 211:

 

He wrote of his boyhood, of precognitive dreams when he was a teenager, and added that he had always had a private mythology: “That we are most of us participants in something which is a cross between a great adventure and a grand primeval tragedy. My myth puts itself in science-fictional terms – the crew of a splendid space ship which crash landed on an alien planet. Immediately they were enslaved by the local inhabitants and have now forgotten who they were or whence they came. But occasionally something jogs their memories and they remember the times when they flew through the galaxy on high adventures, or something plucks their heart-strings and they recognize, only for a moment, their trapped comrades. Coupled with this is an indescribable happy-sad feeling. Something is calling. And in their hearts is an aching memory of home. And permeating everything is the impression of infinitely long periods of time. The tragedy is infinitely far distant, the adventure infinitely long. And we are ageless, simply ageless.”

 

I replied that I had a similar mythology as a child. Being before the time of spaceships it concerned being ship-wrecked on an island and enslaved. One was always creeping down to the shore to scan the horizon for a sail. But soon the local inhabitants came and dragged one back to work for them.

 

 

See Carlos Castaneda, 1993, The Art of Dreaming, Aquarian (HarperCollins):

 

He explained that since we entered into that world with all our physicality, the fixation of our assemblage points on the position preselected by the inorganic beings was so overpowering that it created a sort of a fog that obliterated any memory of the world we came from. He added that the natural consequence of such an immobility, as in the case of the sorcerers of antiquity, is that the dreamers’ assemblage point cannot return to its habitual position. “Think about this,” he urged us, “perhaps this is exactly what is happening to all of us in the world of daily life. We are here, and the fixation of our assemblage point is so overpowering that it has made us forget where we came from, and what our purpose was for coming here.”

 

ANCIENT MYTHS OF QUALITATIVE FORGETTING

 
See ‘The Game of God’ in Alan Watts, 1957. The Way of Zen. Vintage books (Random House). (P32):

 

Fundamental to the life and thought of India from the very earliest times is the great mythological theme of atma-yajna – the act of “self-sacrifice” whereby God gives birth to the world, and whereby men, following the divine pattern, reintegrate themselves with God. The act by which the world is created is the same act by which it is consummated – the giving up one’s life – as if the whole process of the universe were the type of game in which it is necessary to pass on the ball as soon as it is received. Thus the basic myth of Hinduism is that the world is God playing hide-and-seek with himself. As Prajapati, Vishnu, or Brahma, the Lord under many names creates the world by an act of dismemberment or self-forgetting, whereby the One becomes Many, and the single Actor plays innumerable parts. In the end, he comes again to himself only to begin the play once more – the One dying into the Many, and the Many dying into the One.

 

and also (P34):

 

It is important to remember that this picture of the world as the play (lila) of God is mythological in form. If, at this stage, we were to translate it directly into philosophical statement it would be a crude form of pantheism, with which Hindu philosophy is generally and erroneously confused. Thus the idea of each man, each thing, as a part  which the Purusha plays in the state of self-forgetting must not be confused with a logical or scientific statement of fact. The form of statement is poetic, not logical.

 

and (p 34):

 

Every positive statement about ultimate things must be made in the suggestive form of myth, of poetry. For in this realm the direct and indicative form of speech can only say “Neti, neti”  (“No, no”), since what can be described and categorized must also belong to the conventional realm.

 

COMMENT:  Psychiatrist and philosopher Stanislav Grof (1998, p 188), in a chapter entitled ‘The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are’ (a phrase he borrows from Alan Watts) suggests that God plays this game because in the divided and Self-Forgetting state there are possibilities of experience that do not exist in the unitary state of Self-Remembrance:

 

The world in which we live has many characteristics that Absolute Consciousness in its pure form is missing, such as plurality, polarity, density, physicality, change, and impermanence. The project of creating a facsimile of a material reality endowed with these properties is executed with such artistic and scientific perfection that the split-off units of the Universal Mind find it entirely convincing and mistake it for reality. In the extreme expression of its artistry, represented by the atheist, the Divine actually succeeds in bringing forth arguments not only against its involvement in creation, but against its very existence.

 

CRITICISM OF GROF: We might note here that this cosmological principle, so stated by Grof, comes dangerously closed to Watts’ ‘error of literalism,’ since the impression given is more of an ‘IT IS’ rather than of  a ‘IT IS AS IF.’ Furthermore, one finds that a reasoned explanation of this type inevitably tends to trivialize the whole issue since, in essence, it attempts to mitigate or ‘soften’ what is experientially incapable of mitigation – the implication is that one can actually say “This is why it happens…”   A serious criticism of this type of explanation would be say that the ‘blow’ of realization that one receives when experiencing unmitigated consciousness is composed of pure unprecedented amazement and unending awesome incomprehension – we might cautiously and metaphorically refer to it as being a ‘brute fact’ that comes with no supporting circumstances and no convenient accompanying conceptual packaging whatsoever.  “God is not nice – God is an earthquake!” as the saying has it. To explain the question of ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’ in such terms as “The purpose of life and existence is that the Whole may experience finding itself” is a trite and annoyingly circular argument that may lead one to suppose that the Big Question has actually been answered!  When one imposes a rational perspective on an essentially irrational primary psychic datum what has actually happened is that a precedent for understanding consciousness has been tacitly acknowledged; this is nothing other than the process of becoming unconscious; what is happening here is that one is sliding down the slippery slope of passively identifying with one’s ideas. “Aah! Now I understand…” is the siren song of beckoning unconsciousness, a seductively comforting blunting of the diamond edge of Cosmic Uncertainty.

 

Grof goes on to observe that in some variants of the Myth of Self-veiling God’s motivation is actually that He is bored! This, although an extreme viewpoint on the matter, is of course also an inevitable viewpoint once Grof’s own argument regarding the advantages of the Self-Veiled state is extrapolated to its logical conclusion. [The photocopied sheet <APPENDIX 1> represents an example of this type of story.]  When we are driven to consider that Cosmic Boredom might be the motivation for divine action in creating the world it is possible that we might find that the whole thing starts to leave a rather unpleasant taste in one’s mouth – if Absolute Consciousness is that bad, wouldn’t we be better off staying unconscious? The ultimate effect is distinctly depressing! We do have good reasons for not taking the Cosmic Boredom scenario too seriously, however. For one thing, it is the end point of a literalist interpretation – a gloomy and rather banal conceptual cul-de-sac and nothing more. Basically, it is a projection of our present state of understanding upon a higher state, which is the same thing as trying to understand reality as it is in itself on the basis of a lower analogue of that reality – any ‘literal’ understanding that we might arrive at will be no more than an extension of this same lower or degenerate analogue. The phenomenon of ‘boredom’ only exists for the self-deluding goal-orientated mind, which constantly has to distract itself in order that it might not be confronted with the nullity (or unreality) of its own existence. This essentially ‘sterile’ pursuit creates boredom (or ennui) as an inescapable  byproduct.

 

PERSONAL STORIES OF QUALITATIVE REMEMBERING

 

See following passage from Johannes Fabricius (1976). Alchemy -The Medieval Alchemists and Their Royal Art. Diamond Books. (p 208, 209):

 

Frightening experience of the One

 

The psychological implications of Basil Valentine’s cosmic man may be amplified by a psychedelic experience of the same figure. Inexperienced and poorly guided, a young American journalist was hurled by 490 milligrams of mescaline to the same top of the mountain which Basil valentine had conquered after a life-long opus circulatorium:

 

‘I didn’t like what was happening. I was starting to remember something, and it seemed to have some connection with sunlight and a cradle. But what could it be? Then it came to me that I All-seeing eyewas gradually remembering my own identity, like an amnesia victim who slowly recovers his past. Finally it all fell together, and I remembered who I was. And it was so simple, really. I was life. I was being. I was the vibrant force that filled the room, and was the room. I was the world, the universe. I was everything. I was that which always was and always would be. I was Jim [the guide], and Jim was me, and we were everybody else, and all of us put together were the same thing, and that same thing was the only thing there was. We were not God. We were simply all that there was, and all that there was wasn’t God. It was us, alone. And we were each other, and nowhere anywhere was there anything else but us, and we were always the same, the one and only truth.

 

“Jim,” I said, “can you get me out of this?”

“Uh-huh. You want to try it another half-hour?”

“Yes,” I said, “Let us try it another half-hour.”

 

‘Having been reunited with the Ground of my Being, I wanted urgently to be estranged from it as quickly as possible. But I tried to hold on, at least for a while, and I tried to laugh at the terrifying idea that was building up in my mind. ‘I don’t want to be God,’ I said. ‘I don’t even want to be city editor.’ But it did no good to laugh, and I stopped trying. Of course I wasn’t God, I knew that. But I was All That There Was, and I didn’t want to be that, either. It was dark now, and I could hear children playing somewhere outside the hospital – under a street lamp no doubt – and their lonely voices filled me with sadness. The children, I thought. The children, and Jim, and me: we were all the God there was. And it was sad and awful, because I wanted there to be a God. For the children at least, if not for me. But the loss of God was not the worst of it; there was something far worse even than that. The loss of my little self was not the worst of it; nor indeed did I regret that at all. It was what I had gained. I had gained the whole universe, it seemed, and that was more than I could cope with – more than I could bear.

‘I didn’t want it.

‘But who was I, who didn’t want it? I was Everybody, the Self. And now I knew what the little selves were for, I thought. They were a fiction designed to protect the Self from the knowledge of its own Being – to keep the self from going mad. For surely, without them, the Self might be driven to insanity by the thought of its own audacity, and the thought of its own loneliness, …’

 

NOTE: The ‘Cosmic Man’ is ‘the man who is the cosmos,’ – there is nothing that is outside him.  This is the ‘all-inclusive self.’  Thus, the alchemist Paracelsus says: “For heaven is man and man is heaven, and all men are one heaven, and heaven is only one man.” [quoted in Jung vol 13, para 168]. The Cosmic Man was also known by the alchemists as the ‘philosopher’s son’ or the ‘lapis’ (the stone).

 

COMMENT: There seems to be a tendency for people who have been catapulted – one might perhaps say prematurely – into this all-inclusive state of consciousness to feel the experience as being tinged with a sense of loss, as is the case in the account reproduced above. The abrupt transition from a goal-orientated, ‘assigned value’ reality to what Timothy Leary has called ‘Non-Game Reality’ – the state where the very idea of purpose or goal-orientated activity is rendered entirely meaningless (since there no longer the possibility of perceiving or believing that there is something that exists outside oneself and that therefore could be ‘gained’ as the result of certain behaviours) – may leave one feeling ‘…but what is the point of it all?’  This feeling of sadness, confusion or loneliness does not appear in accounts given by mystics who might possibly be said to have come into the all-inclusive state ‘when they were ready to.’ The two quotations that follow illustrate a more joyful response to wholeness.

 

See:    Passage from Dr DT Suzuki (ref. unavailable), who quotes an account of an experience recorded by Mr Sokei-an Sasaki:

 

One day I wiped out all the notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude. I felt a little queer – as if I was being carried into something, or as if I was touching some power  unknown to me……… and ztt! I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin of course, but I felt I was standing in the centre of the cosmos. I spoke, but my words lost their meaning. I saw people coming towards me, but all were the same man. All were myself! I had never known this world. I had believed that I was created, but now I must change my opinion: I was never created; I was the cosmos; no individual Mr Sasaki existed.

 

See:   Quotation from Thomas Traherne, seventeenth-century English poet and clergyman, given by Stanislav Grof (1998, p 210-211):

 

The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine, and I the only spectator and  enjoyers of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions; but all proprieties and divisions were mine; all treasures and possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world, which I now unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I might enter into the kingdom of God.

 

APPENDIX:

[1] ‘The Song of the Pearl’ –

 

 

[2] A NOTE ON ALCHEMY AND GNOSTICISM AND THE ESOTERIC DOCTRINE OF THE DESCENT OF SPIRIT INTO MATTER

 

 

The fall can be seen as a loss of consciousness on a cosmic scale, a Great Forgetting. Our plight is seen as twofold: not only are we fettered by the chains of structure, but in addition to this we don’t even realise our loss. We have a collective and complete amnesia, we cannot remember that we have forgotten…  Laing  [p 660] gives a good example, from a gnostic text, of such a doctrine (quoted from Bultmann, Primitive Christianity, 1956):

 

“[the body is] the dark prison, the living death, the sense endowed corpse, the grave thou bearest about with thee, the grave which thou carriest around with thee, the thievish companion who hateth thee in loving thee, and enviath thee in hating thee….”

 

This account is plainly biased (this is an understatement of magnificent proportions!), the dualists had nothing good to say about matter and only wanted to extricate themselves from it as quickly as possible. Why they should have had (or do have, dualists are not extinct!) this attitude is not something that is immediately understandable to most of us; it sounds unadapted, if anything down right pathological. It is a prejudice against substance or form. Most of us are only too happy to be in our bodies or in the material world, enjoying such comforts and pleasures that somatic, materialistic existence affords us.

 

A more recent testimony might be of help in trying to understand this less-than-enthusiastic view of corporeality. The following passage was written by Arthur Guirdham, a consultant psychiatrist who was one of the panel of advisors of the Labour government in the U.K in connection with setting up the NHS in the late ninteen fifties. Arthur Guirdham believed himself to be a re-incarnated Cathar – Catharism was a Dualist esoteric sect based mainly in southern Europe, a variant of an ancient form of Christianity which was eradicated by the catholic church more than 8oo years ago in a particularly bloody series of battles.

 

 

…..the great cosmic disaster of the fall of man was echoed in our own birth. I have felt it in dreams as I plunge through the darkness. The light reaches behind me until it is no more than the memory of a single star. The fall of man is re-echoed in physics. Matter is the slowing down of aeons congealed and inert in what we call the inanimate. And even as we descended in the fall and in our birth, so we ascend after what we call death. Without the impediment of flesh we are more sensitive to the magnetic pull of the spirit. It draws us back, through the seven worlds and the seven levels of consciousness, till we are joined not to a personalised God conceived of as a monument to our own littleness, but to a silence which is immense because it is the extension of our own divinity. We feel its peace at a higher level than the plane of sensation.

– [A Guirdham, 1973, A foot in both worlds]

 

 

THE INCLUSIVE SELF VERSUS THE EXCLUSIVE SELF

 

 

EXCLUSIVE (EXEGESIC) SELF

 

= game-playing self  =  disintegrated or partial (isolated) self   =   normal, ‘adapted’ or equilibrium self         = controlled or directed self =  determinate self   =   known or knowable self   =  “self-as-message”

 

–   Created by purposeful activity [i.e.casual chain of events]; assigned or constructed

 

–   Based on: “sword of discrimination”

 

–   Results in (division of the world) / state of dualism;   me/ not me  (subject/object); BOUNDARIES.

 

PRINCIPLE     =  EITHER/OR

attraction/repulsion

love / hate

(+) or (-) attachment

(Krishnamurti’s “Resistance”)

 

 Bias or choosing

CHARACTERIZED BY:                 low information / low complexity state [consistency or predictability]

SENSE OF CONTAINMENT AND CONTROL (personhood / agency)

 

 

IS                          conflict situation because defined by opposition

a state that needs supporting (dependent)

 

‘doomed’ – (exclusive is constantly threatened -will die, is ultimately unreal)

 

MOTIF:               Mars (War); contradiction; life against life

 

 

 

INCLUSIVE (INTEGESIC) SELF

 

COSMIC SELF   = UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS   = HOMO MAXIMUS  = THE ‘MAN OF LIGHT’ = INDETERMINATE SELF    = WHOLENESS   = THE DIVINE HERMAPHRODITE  = PURPOSELESS SELF  = SELF-AS-MEDIUM

 

 

HOW CREATED  –  uncreated, spontaneous, non-dependent, non-assigned

PRINCIPLE  =  unconditionality  or universal acceptance, no choosing, no criteria therefore infinite                                        relativism;

universal, unconditioned love (non-attachment)

[AND NOT OR]

 

 

 

CHARACTERIZED BY:         Characterlessness.  Has infinite complexity content, infinite information                                                             content, and is therefore not self-consistent (i.e. it is not logical)

SPONTANEITY (NO CONTROL INVOLVED); there is a feeling that one                                                        is being acted through and that one is no longer an isolated actor or agent.

[There is no division between You and Universe]

NO BOUNDARIES, NO LIMITATIONS.

STATE       = ‘non-dual subjectivity’    (All is One)

 

IS                  a situation where there is an unimpeded  expression of an unknown and unknowable reality

MOTIF:          voidness; lack of obstruction; ‘the sound of one hand clapping’; ‘the song that sings itself’;

‘the peace that passeth understanding’…..

 

THE TWO REALMS

 

Philip K Dick (in Valis, 1981) puts forward the idea that there are two realms, a higher and a lower:

 

# 49 Two realms there are, upper and lower. The upper, derived from the hyperuniverse 1 or Yang, Form 1of Parmenides, is sentient and volitional. The lower realm, or Yin, Form II of Parmenides, is mechanical, driven by blind, efficient cause, deterministic and without intelligence, since it emanates from a dead source. In ancient times it was termed ‘astral determinism’.  We are trapped, by and large, in the lower realm, but are, through the sacraments, by means of the plasmate, extricated.  Until astral determinism is broken, we are not even aware of it, so occluded are we. ‘The Empire never ended’.

THE TWO ‘ARROWS’

 

It is possible to say that, since there are two realms, there are also two directions, to arrows, or two forces. One is the direction of ‘forgetting’, where we simultaneously forget and forget that we have forgotten, and are as a result identified with the false or exegesic self. The other is the direction of Self-remembering, where we remember that we forgot, and remember who we really are. The downwards direction is a euphoric direction, and so it is the dir3ection in which we are most likely to move. When we move in this direction we become a progressively cruder approximation or analogue of who we really are, and we simultaneously lose the capacity to see that any depth or any subtlety has been lost from the picture. This is like becoming drunk and crude and stupid but also becoming too drunk to see that you are stupid and crude. We become cartoons in a cartoon world who are unable to see that they are cartoons. Despite our impoverished state we think that we are fine and that everything is as it should be. This is the direction of involution. When we move in the direction of the upwards arrow we remember that which we had forgotten, and we see that we are more than we had thought we were. This is the direction of evolution.  Involution means the gradually loss of freedom, coupled with the loss of the freedom to see that we are not free. This leads to the state of ‘determinism’, where we become the same as mechanically-reacting machines. Evolution is the direction of increasing freedom, which involves ‘conscious suffering’ because we first have to painfully witness our own lack of freedom, and the extent and power of the delusions to which we are subject. This is the direction of increasing ability to perceive the truth, and to act freely on that basis.

 

 

Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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